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'It's been a nightmare': School nurses overworked, exhausted as COVID-19 surges in South Carolina

School nurses have been at the forefront of the contact tracing process and say this burden has been a heavy one to carry.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — School nurses say they are overworked and exhausted as COVID-19 cases surge in South Carolina schools.

“I know a lot of my nurses are ready to quit, and that’s what I hear when I talk to the nurses in the surrounding districts in the Upstate,” said Richland Two health services coordinator Dawn MacAdams.

Many nurses say they are spending most of their days doing contact tracing, some days long after their shift is over, and it's starting to take an emotional toll on them.

"It's been a nightmare," MacAdams said. "That is all school nurses are able to focus on pretty much statewide. We’re not just talking Richland Two, but throughout the state. It is very labor intensive work.”

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It is considered the responsibility of the parent to report when their child began experiencing symptoms. After the child tests positive, it is then up to school nurses to begin investigating who the child was in contact with during the previous 48 hours.

School nurses we spoke with said the process hasn’t been easy, especially when breaking the news to parents their child has been exposed to the virus.

“Here we are working in the middle of a pandemic trying to keep everyone healthy and safe, and the nurses are getting blasted by the parents for quarantining their children,” MacAdams said

The nurses said they are starting to feel the impact.

“It’s hard. It’s hard to see my nurses be so stressed out, to give so much every day,” said Amy Wood, Lexington One Director of Nursing.

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Administrators have assisted with making phone calls. “I was working with an administrator today who said 'teach me, tell me, show me.' So, we are very thankful for that support,” said Kershaw County District Nurse Elizabeth Sterling.

However, administrative staff are often balancing other duties.

“If someone is helping, they’re either taking on more responsibility than what their job with us entails or we’re pulling them from the job they’re supposed to be doing in order to help with this,” Wood said.

Richland Two and Kershaw County are both fully staffed, but Lexington One is currently looking to hire two float nurses.

“I think being understaffed, not just for nursing understaffed, just being understaffed for the COVID response is what’s really hamstringing us now,” said Wood.

“I appreciate and love each and every one of my nurses. You bring a lot to Richland School District Two. We are the premier school district. Hang in there. We’re in this together,” said MacAdams.

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